Last night, I went running with my friend Meg (we are training for a half-marathon; doesn't that make me sound so fit? I love saying it so much I've decided to actually follow through on it), and while she was tying her shoelaces she casually remarked on something or other, "I hate doing things twice. I would never go live in Scotland again because I would always be trying to recreate what it was like the last time I was there, and it would ruin all the nice memories I have."
My truth-moment alarm bell sounded. Sometimes people just say things in the right way and it changes your whole experience of yourself.
I am always trying to do things twice. I think I've tried to date every idiot I've ever dated twice. I re-read pretty much every book I read almost immediately. When I go to a restaurant, I order the same thing every time. (Oddly enough, though, I hate leftovers.) And in a vague sort of unplanned way, when I get up in the morning I seem to be intent on having a good day twice. I've never consciously thought about it, but when she said that, I realized that my conception of happiness is always sort of in the past, and that I'm always trying to kind of recreate a past happy day, instead of creating a brand new one.
Isn't that just the most awful thing you've ever heard?
Now that I've considered it, though, I don't think happiness is something that can ever happen to you again. Happiness, when you find yourself suddenly standing in it, is always something brand-new.
"But, Hilary," you might say. "What about that coffee shop you go to every single day? Doesn't that make you happy?"
Well, yes. But the thing that is making me happy is the singular, new conception of the extended experience: it makes me happy to go there every single day. The experience of reliability and order makes me happy.
"Or, Hilary," you might say. "What about when you find that old t-shirt you used to wear in college, and it makes you really happy to see it again?"
Touche, my friend. However, what's making you happy in that instance is, I believe, the new instance of remembering. You probably haven't thought of that shirt in ages, and you certainly haven't thought if it in the way you are thinking of it now, standing in your closet and remembering all the cool stuff you used to do in it. It's not the shirt that's bringing you joy; it's the remembering.
So if happiness is always in new things, even a new routine, or a new conception of an old routine, getting up in the morning with the idea that some old day of happiness will just sort of happen over again is probably not the best method for finding it.
It's like that totally underrated movie Groundhog's Day. That movie is really wonderfully profound (and man do I love me some Bill Murray. All of my favorite movies have Bill Murray in them (although Caddyshack is NOT one of them)). And here I am, still in that scene where he keeps going up to Andie McDowell at the bar and trying to recreate the perfect day with her over and over and over and it just gets increasingly more awkward and desperate. I am constantly ordering sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist. And nobody likes that drink.
The worst part is, I think I'm actually just terrified of being uncomfortable. I hate not knowing what I'm supposed to do. I dread going up to a counter in a coffee shop and not knowing the names of all their sizes. Things like that make me ridiculously anxious, because they make me feel like I stick out, and like everybody knows I'm a newbie, when really I just want to be that unobtrusive-writer-who-is-observing-everything-in-the-background. But that's totally ridiculous. No one is going to impale me if I don't order right at a restaurant, and if they do, it's probably part of the experience like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. And, really, when the sun is going to implode one day, who gives a sh*t how I order at a restaurant? But these things make me really, really anxious.
And, apparently, they also prevent me from doing things to make me happy.
I feel like it's going to take me at least a few days to fully comprehend how to change this attitude without adopting some kind of Gretchen-Rubin-like resolution to "Never Do Things Twice!!!!" with a double underline on a post-it note; but I'll keep you updated. Today I went to my favorite coffeeshop and sat in the way back room where I never sit and read more of Anna Karenina, which I have never read, so I guess that's a start.
It's all about the baby steps.